Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Postings from Pretoria #22

28 October 2009

Hello there... Rodger French here.

Photo Update Alert:


Big day today. I wrapped up my current stint in the Embassy Mail Room and can now look forward to three whole weeks of cooking, chauffeuring, and generally providing concierge services for A.J. and our guests visiting from the USA and Australia. And, since we have some big-time travel coming up, I thought I’d quickly catch you up on life of late here in scenic South Africa. In no particular order:

Anne and I took a trip to the Pretoria Zoo. Not bad, as zoos go, and includes the largest walk-through aviary in Africa. Sadly, some very large raptors are housed in very small cages and that is very depressing. The reptile house is, however, way cool. There are some serious snakes in this country.

We also joined 16 other Embassy expats on a bus tour of Pretoria (sister city to Bethlehem and Teheran, among others), including stops at the Voortrekker Monument, Church Square, and the Union Buildings. Ja, all the Afrikaner highlights, replete with statuary. It was a pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning and our guide (Johann) imparted many interesting, if occasionally biased, factoids. This country has such a rich and troubled past, and is no more a “post-racial society” than is the United States. And, like the U.S., ZA continually struggles against an appalling history of and predilection for violence.

Case in point… there was a shootout at Menlyn Mall, Pretoria’s largest and most upscale shopping center. A gang of 8-12 bandits armed with AK-47s hit a bank and jewelry store, exchanging gunfire with police. No one was seriously injured, thanks be, and most of the thieves and the loot have been recovered. This kind of armed robbery happens frequently in South Africa and it is quite common to read/hear news of pitched battles between the cops and criminal gangs, often resulting in multiple deaths. With the 2010 World Cup - and half a million futbol fans - coming, the authorities are cracking down (which is itself a dubious proposition); but the country is overrun with guns and young, unemployed men. And that is a nasty combination.

On a more hopeful note… spring has arrived with considerable authority. The purple jacarandas are still in bloom (though, sadly, not for much longer) and the place is lousy with roses of every imaginable colour. The weather is predictably perfect, although the rainy season - meaning evening thunderstorms of Old Testament intensity - has come, necessitating the unplugging of computers, modems, TVs, and anything else one cannot afford to have fried by lightning. It’s the ultimate surge protection, though it does make a dent in online activity.

Speaking of the Internet, there’s yet another push among American politicians who have been bought off by the major telecoms to do away with “Net Neutrality.” Habitual readers know that I try not to get (too) political when posting, my personal pinko politics being not really germane to these missives. This is, however, an important issue for all of us.

If you believe that corporations have your best interests at heart as they attempt to establish tiers of service for the Internet, well, to each his/her own delusions. But if you favor the democratic (small “d”) notion that the Internet should continue to treat all comers equally rather than favor the rich, it’s time to do something to assure that. I have suggestions.

Next up: Victoria Falls and Chobe National Park. Big-time tourism, indeed. Onward.


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